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Pressing Issues

The solution is to use any overhead-pressing exercise at the end of your shoulder routine.

Q: I read with great interest Doug Brignole’s feature lambasting overhead presses [“Stop the Presses,” March ’10]. I respect your opinion, so I was wondering what your thoughts are on his idea about military presses. Do you think they’re overrated and perhaps even dangerous?

A: I tend to agree with most of his points, and I’ve been saying for years now that presses are overrated as a medial-delt-head developer. That’s why in most of my programs you see dumbbell upright rows, rack pulls or seated lateral rows as the leadoff exercise; however, I also believe that overhead pressing is a function of the deltoid complex that you should train—just not excessively heavy.

The solution is to put the pressing exercise at the end of your shoulder routine. That way you preexhaust the delts, and you’re forced to lighten the load on your overhead presses. To make the exercise even safer, I favor doing it with dumbbells for more freedom of movement.

I’ve used overhead presses as my first deltoid exercise, but cumulative shoulder pain usually forces a new order—with presses on the back end. So, as I said, Brignole has some good, solid points; I just don’t agree that you should throw out the movement completely.

Q: I’m having a really hard time putting on weight and muscle mass. I’m 6’1” and weigh 165. I just can’t seem to make much progress. I’m using the POF X-Rep Workout, but I’ve only gotten okay results in the first month, and I’m working it pretty hard. It’s frustrating when I see all these guys at the gym getting big fast while I’m a 26-year-old guy who can’t seem to make much progress. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Everyone’s genetic makeup is different (plus, you may not know who’s getting pharmaceutical help). The bottom line is that you may not be perfectly suited to putting on muscle fast. With consistent heavy training, however, you should be able to transform your physique. Keep in mind that most bodybuilders add only about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle a year, which is about one pound a month.

I’m an ectomorph like you, and I remember adding about 15 pounds with sporadic training my first year. By training correctly and consistently, I eventually went from 120 to 200 pounds in ripped condition at 5’11”.

Full-range Positions-of-Flexion mass training helped me get that 80-pound gain. I also rotated in basic workouts now and then, which produced excellent change for more gains. I still do that today.

So a good mass-packing plan for you now would be to move to a basic big-exercise routine for a month or so, then go back to full POF for a shocking full-range-training effect. You can alternate between the two every four or five weeks.

That’s how Jonathan Lawson, my training partner, packed on 20 pounds of muscle in 10 weeks. While he was regaining some muscle he had built previously, he also added at least 10 pounds of new muscle in about 2 1/2 months. Amazing, and proof that the routine-rotation strategy is a good one. His before and after pics and story are posted at His 10-week Size Surge program uses that rotation approach—with a basic program followed by full-on POF.

For example, you’re currently using the POF X-Rep program. I assume you mean the one on pages 37-40 of the e-book The X-traordinary X-Rep Workout. If you’ve been on it for at least four weeks, now is a good time to switch to the Basic X-traordinary X-Rep Workout on pages 28-30 of that same e-book. [Note: The e-book, containing both programs, is available at]

In the basic workout you use only the big ultimate exercise for each muscle—pyramiding the poundage over a few sets for power and finishing with a single drop set for density. Very quick, very efficient.

The basic routine will give you more recovery as well as anabolic hormone release. Then after four or five weeks switch back to the full-range POF program, and you’ll get a size-building shock effect with stretch overload and the tension and occlusion that come from doing stretch- and contracted-position exercises.

Also, be sure you’re getting enough calories—at least 30 grams of protein at each of six feedings a day along with a protein shake before bed to fend off overnight muscle loss. I use Pro-Fusion, as it has a protein array of casein, whey and egg. The casein is most important, as it’s a slow-releasing protein. So you stay in positive nitrogen balance most of the night.

Q: I’m using the Size Surge program, and it’s absolutely fantastic. My only complaint is that I want my bench press max to go up faster. I’m not sure that the two work sets on the bench are enough to make that happen. What would you suggest?

A: Two work sets can be enough. During Jonathan’s original 10-week cycle his bench went from 200 x 10 to 290 x 6. To be fair, as I said, he was regaining some size and strength that he’d lost. Still, it was a spectacular increase.

You, however, are looking for more strength with a size side effect. For that we’d suggest adding only one more work set to your bench presses—and you should hit all three work sets in the power range, like this:

Set 1 x 6-7 reps

Add weight

Set 2 x 4-5 reps

Add weight

Set 3 x 2-4 reps

That will supercharge your nervous system to blast up heavier and heavier weights, and it will also enable you to hone your technique on lower-rep sets because of less fatigue—no leadoff higher-rep set as in the original program. Plus it will give the power side of the fast-twitch fibers a good mass jolt.

Remember, the fibers with the most potential for size are the type 2As, which are dual capacity—they have both a power and an endurance component. Because you’re no longer doing a leadoff nine-rep set on the bench press, you need a focused endurance, or density, hit.

That’s why I suggest you do your dumbbell flyes after bench presses with higher reps—12 to 15—and do only the bottom two-thirds of the stroke. Bottom-end partials will keep tension on your pecs throughout the set, which was one of Arnold’s favorite techniques.

Or better yet, do cable flyes instead of dumbbell flyes, as cables let you train the full range while keeping tension on your pecs throughout the entire stroke, all the way up to complete contraction. If you do cable flyes, keep them in the 12-to-15-rep range for a good density size effect.

All of the above will ensure a bench press power surge with an excellent size side effect for a pair of peaked-out pecs.

Q: Do you think I could lose 20 pounds in a month? I have a reunion coming up, and I want to be in a somewhat healthy-looking condition. I want the fat off. It’s killing me to see this gut!

A: Yes, you could lose that much, but most of it would be water and muscle—and you probably wouldn’t look better or feel healthy. In fact, you’d feel like crap and look worse than you feel. We’re all impatient when it comes to changing our bodies, but the best strategy is gradual and steady, even when there’s a short deadline.

You’re better off shooting to lose eight to 10 pounds of fat in that month and lifting hard to build muscle. You’ll be amazed at what shedding some ugly fat and gaining some rock-hard muscle will do for your total look and how you feel—from both health and self-confidence standpoints.

Remember, if you do it right, you’ll be adding muscle and losing fat—in a sense, morphing mush to muscle—so the scale isn’t something you should pay attention to very closely. If you lose 10 pounds of fat and gain 10 pounds of muscle, you’ll look completely different (so much better), but the scale will read exactly the same. It’s the fat-to-muscle shuffle.

Work out with weights for an hour four days a week, and follow each session with at least 15 minutes of cardio. Also, eat clean, but don’t starve yourself—get plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables and cut back the junk. Train hard and eat right for 30 days, and prepare to be amazed!

Note: For more fat-to-muscle tips, meal-by-meal diets and fat-to-muscle training programs, see the Triple-Shredded Combo Offer, which includes three e-books—X-treme Lean, The Ultimate Fat-to-Muscle Workout and X-traordinary Abs— in one money-saving package. It’s available at

Editor’s note: Steve Holman is the author of many bodybuilding best-sellers and the creator of Positions-of-Flexion muscle training. For information on the POF videos and Size Surge programs, see the ad sections beginning on pages 248 and 264, respectively. Also visit for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM

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